Xray Eyeballs began as the brainchild of guitarist O.J. San Felipe and bassist Carly Rabalais, who, after founding Brooklyn garage rock juggernaut Golden Triangle (Hardly Art), sought a release that would sate both their sweet-toothed desires and their darker impulses, like a candy-coated Vicodin. Like their musical antecedents, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Velvet Underground, Xray Eyeballs creates a world of their own. Low-lifes, night-walkers, pill-riders, and other sordid characters stalk the band’s New York City streets and their songs compel you to follow them until you find the peace of a night redeemed in the morning light.
On Splendor Squalor, Xray Eyeballs’ second full-length on Kanine, refracted rays of that redemptive light shine through the band’s eerie musical haze. The band evolves to more sophisticated songwriting and adventurous arrangement, while retaining the spark and energy of their raw early material, a progression that recalls Wire’s 154 and The Cure’s Pornography . The addition of Sarah Baldwin (The Girls at Dawn, Fergus & Geronimo) on drums and Liz Lohse (Heaven, Runaway Suns) on guitar and synths expands the band’s sonic possibilities with lush vocal harmonies, unique musical counterpoints and inspired songwriting contributions. Xray Eyeballs’ new lineup deftly maneuvers from unctuous drones to punk rave-ups and new-wave bangers with a confidence and melodic sensibility that illuminates the splendor in the squalor.
The needle drops on “Four” and you find yourself enthused with the will to cross the dance floor and talk to that crush your friends warned you about. “I’m feeling alright,” San Felipe sings. You believe him and feel alright, too. The bass throbs with Factory-style control as “X” sends you oscillating wildly in a lovers’ power struggle: “I control you/ You control me.” It’s 6 AM and you’re sitting on a couch between two guys who either wish they were Lou Reed and Alan Vega or actually are Lou Reed and Alan Vega. You shouldn’t have taken that last anything of anything. “Syrup,” featuring Christiana Key (Cult of Youth, Zola Jesus) on violin, wafts into the room and suddenly that time between last call and pancakes make sense.
Xray Eyeballs fully realizes their vision of Splendor Squalor live: skater kids donning the band’s signature “Ghost Girl” t-shirt bounce off the walls; the oldest punks in the world reluctantly acknowledge the validity of something new; hands typically stuffed in the pockets of skin-tight jeans wave in the air like they just don’t care; record nerds dance as if nobody’s blogging; goths smile. The band’s undeniable energy brings the shadows in the darkness to life. These creatures bear witness to San Felipe’s blatant disregard for his physical well-being as the enraptured frontman, refusing to acknowledge the limitations of both stage and gravity, bounds recklessly around the crowd and dangles perilously from the ceiling, a provocation for the audience to match the band’s enthusiasm.